Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Addyman Plesiosaur

I am in the SA Museum on North Terrace, looking at the opalized pleiosaur skeleton.

The Addyman plesiosaur is the skeleton of a freshwater plesiosaur from the Eromanga Sea of the early cretaceous period.  Now entirely turned into opal.
It is my father's favorite thing in Adelaide, and when he lived here he took every visitor to see it.
I stop by myself, every time I am in town.
It's immense- fantastical - improbable  - and a reminder that the fantastic and the improbable and the beautiful happen all the time, all around us, every day.  We don't, or can't, always see it happening.  Not everything happens on a scale or in a time-span that we can understand.  But oceans grow and shrink and pleisosaur bones freeze into streams of colored light: worlds change all around us, moment by moment while we wait for buses on rainy streets and stomp through the day, paying bills and planning grocery lists -
It's a metaphor, you see.
Made solid and shouting "Attend!" in a voice you can't miss.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Librarians do not only help you research your school papers

When travelling somewhere drear and rainful,
Pack extra socks - it's far less painful.

Today I am in Adelaide, visiting friends and seeing a doctor for a post-surgery check up.  It's wet here in Adelaide today.
            In the afternoon I had an hour to kill between engagements, and I took myself to the library. The library on North Terrace has four deep window embrasures on the west wall, for which the management has invested in large blue plastic bean bags, and which they have stuffed into the cavities to make them more uncomfortable to sit in. I prefer not to sprawl (slightly sideways and legs akimbo) in front of other library patrons, so when I find an embrasure empty, I push the beanbag out and squeeze into the window behind it.  Usually someone else will sit on the beanbag and there will be two of us curled up there, reading cozily and watching the winter rains dancing on the glass.
            This afternoon there was no beanbag at all in the third window. I settled in for a comfy hour of bad science fiction paperbacks and free wi-fi, but after only ten minutes, a librarian came up to me and put her hand right in front of my computer screen.
            "This window is only for beanbags," she said.  "You have to get up and sit somewhere else."
            I was mildly bewildered.  The beanbag in question was a few feet away from the window, being used by a reading circle.  But she looked at me disapprovingly till I stood up, and once I did, events moved swiftly.  While I was bending down to collect my bags and my jacket, she was stamping over to the children’s corner to rain down an afternoon of pure hell on a family sharing a picture book.
            "Excuse me," she said, not very nicely. 
            A mother, a father and two very small children looked up at her.
            "Those beanbags may only be used by one person at a time."  The librarian said. "One of those children will have to get off."
            "But they’re small children," the mother said.  "Can’t they share the bag?"
            "Rules are rules."  The lady said, and crossed her arms.  "And the rules say adults aren’t allowed to sit on the floor.  You have to stand up."
            Bowing with the wind, the parents stood up and relocated themselves and one of the children to a set of small red chairs. The mother picked up a book and turned to face the children.  
            "It was a VERY fat caterpillar," she said. "What do you think of that?"
            "Excuse me," the librarian said again.  "Adults aren't allowed to sit on the children's chairs either. you have to stand.  I told you that."
            "How are we supposed to have a reading circle if we’re standing?" The father said.
            "Rules are rules." The lady said. "You can have a reading circle, but only children have permission to sit on the chairs."
            The father stood up again, and breathing deeply through his nose, went to collect a chair from the adult reading area.  He was stopped by a hand on his arm.   
            "Bringing chairs from other areas," the librarian said, "is not permitted."
            "I think," the father ground out, "you are being very unfriendly."
             Rules are rules." She said. "Incidentally, the beanbags are only to be used in the window seats. The other child will have to get off too. What made you think you’re allowed to sit on it over here?"
            The mother stared at her, bewildered. "Over here?  The window is all of three feet away! How could this possibly be a problem?"
            "Rules are rules."  The librarian said.  "Incidentally, your children are far too small for the children’s chairs. They’ll have to stand up as well.  And this is a library. Libraries have to be quiet.  We don’t permit reading aloud."
            The mother and the father opened their mouths, and shut their mouths, and opened their mouths and looked around at the rest of the library, where patrons sprawled across chairs, beanbags, cushions, and even their backpacks.  At the circulation desk, bells chimed and conversations were going on at all sorts of volumes.  On the far side of the room a stereo played Caribbean jazz.  And right behind the librarian, two small girls lay on their stomachs, swinging their feet and reading Doctor Seuss to each other.
            The mother recovered first.  Seizing her small daughter by the hand, she hauled the child to her feet.   
            "Come on darlings," she said in a trembling voice. "We are going to go and find a bookshop and buy some books.  Doesn’t that sound fun?"
            The father and the mother and the two small children stormed off.  Thirty seconds later, I heard seven kinds of hell being raised over at the circulation desk, and a book about a very fat caterpillar landed in the re-shelving cart with some volume.
            As I write this now, there is a very large man in a very wet raincoat sitting on a small red chair and reading a newspaper. Nobody has taken even one small bit of notice.
           That librarian needs a spanking, and there's a hardcover children's story book in the re-shelving cart that would do the job nicely, I think.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

So this Canadian married an Australian in the Cook Islands…

Right after the Eurovison Final, this blog sank like England's hopes of musical glory, and the reason rather goes like this:
A Canadian married an Australian in the Cook Islands…and as husband and wife, they wanted to move to Chile....

In mid-September we are relocating to South America.  We are enormously excited, seeing this move as all sorts of good things and opportunities - not least among them  the chance to resurrect our atrophied Spanish language skills, which are not in high demand over here in Australia.
There is, however, a little problem with the visa.  A year and a half ago we were married in the Cook Islands.  It seemed like the best of all possible choices - we would be married barefoot, on a beach, and the Cook Islands were halfway between our Australian and American families, and a Cook Islands marriage certificate is recognized practically everywhere.  
Except one place, it turns out.  
There is one country that for certain and definately doesn't recognize a Cook Islands marriage certificate. 
That country would, of course, be Chile.
And a valid marriage certificate is a rather significant requirement for Mr Tabubil's work visa. 

Visa-wise, we were given two options - the first: to have the marriage certificate legalized, which would involve four offices in three countries and take - at a conservative estimate - four months to complete.
The second was to get remarried in a civil ceremony at the registry office.

My mother thinks it's hysterical. She telephone me from Canada, addressed me as MISS Tabubil, asked if we wanted linens or white goods, inquired as to who was planning the wedding breakfast, and generally proceeded to laugh herself sick. 
Laughter aside, the second option was clearly the preferred one, so with visions of boutonnieres and sentimental re-affirmations dancing in my head, I called the government wedding registry in Adelaide, where a very pompous young man flatly and non-negotiable told me that Australia recongises the Cook Islands, and that being so, re-marriage for any purpose or under any circumstances was illegal in Australia and is never done in Australia and no-one ever thinks of it in Australia unless they're up to no good and goodbye.  
And then he more or less hung up on me.
He was just the teensiest bit of an ass, so we thought it prudent to confirm his opinions elsewhere -and yes, ufortunately,  the Cook Islands marriage certificate IS valid in Australia - and that's it, tough luck.
Well, poot.  I was planning a raid on the local Op Shops for wedding veils and table decorations, and dreaming up a smart black suit that looked elegant from the back.
Ergo, we are in the process.  We have found out that we can enter Chile under a document called a Declaracion Jurada - which officially labels me as Mr Tabubil's de-facto (if only the living-in-sin sort), but at the moment everything is all very hypothetical and there seem to be several visits to the Chilean consulate in Melbourne in our future.
It's not quite as bad as something out of Kafka, but there have been a few moments that would appear to have been translated directly from one of his original German-language manuscripts...
And if a full legalization of our lovely marriage certificate turns out to be the only acceptable way to go - we're planning for an extra month or so sitting on a lovely tropical beach somewhere before we can legally arrive in Chile while it kicks in. 
Just in case. 

So count this as a warning: if this blog becomes a bit sporadic for the next eight or ten weeks - it's because I'm sifting through closets, and writing inventories, and wrestling with lawyers, negotiating with packers, and generally - moving.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

And in honor of tonight's Eurovision 2011 Grand Final - The Number One Eoruvison Performance of All Time and Don't Argue with Me on This because there is No Argueing with Svetlana Lodoba of the Ukraine!!!!!!!!

This has everything.
There aren't even words to describe the full-on majesty of this… I hesitate to call it a performance, because that pigeonholes. That labels.
            There's patriotism. With Flags. There's Flames. There are gladiators. And Body Oil. It's just full on overloaded, orgasmic, explosive plastic flamingos. And I love it so hard it hurts.

Ukraine, 2009 - Be My Valentine:

Friday, May 13, 2011

Eurovision Song Contest: Wolves of the Sea

No introduction necessary. A crowd of grinning grown-ups in pirate costumes mobs the stage and sings sea chanties with rock-opera-power-chords.

It doesn't get very much better than this.

Latvia, 2008 - Wolves of the Sea:

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Eurovision Song Contest: SAX MAN

What's not to love? It's all purely joyful - the camera opening onto the spinning violin, the hell-for-leather drum kit, the candy colored costumes, like Lady Gaga would wear if she dressed for joy instead of avant-garder than thou, and the saxophone -
ah, The SAX.
It's all about the Sax.

Moldova, 2010 -Run Away:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Eurovision Song Contest: Bosnia & Herzegovina

While I was 'researching' these Eurovision songs (for a given definition of research involving popcorn, pop tarts and sonic hangovers) - I kept bumping into Bosnia & Herzegovina. For the last few years, I've enjoyed their songs, but every year their rather quiet, self-effacing, self-AWARE performances are drowned out by the louder, showier numbers.
Call it the ascendency of the mediocre. Any genuinely good entries cancel themselves out in the international open telephone vote. These performances just aren't quite enough - not quite nutty enough, sparkly enough, or bombastic enough and they tend to slip through the cracks in the voting blocs.

Start simple -
Bosnia & Herzegovina, 2006 - Rijeka bez imena:

Get funky -
Bosnia & Herzegovina, 2008 - Pokusaj:

And then at last, it's Les Miserables with Drums!
In 2009, Bosnia and Herzegovina decided to go down fighting with kettle drums, tactical stubble on the boy toys, and wind machines! This is Eurovision with the lot - the Lot and a tune you can hum along with!

Bosnia & Herzegovina - 2009, Bistra Voda:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Eurovision Song Contest: Spain - the One with the Gate-crasher.

Sometimes - and it's a mystery how it happens - a number with real interest and chops sneaks through into the Eurovision Final. The music is clever, the singer has real talent, the choreography and costumes are spot-on NAIL-IT-fabulous, and you wonder how on earth this number made it through the semis, until you spot the calculated lunatic fringe that the average booze-on-a-couch voter will mistake for butterflies and power-chords.

This song is a a perfect amalgam of 'Eurovision-what the hell?' and some seriously icy professionalism- when a man crashes the stage and joins in the act, you don't even know he doesn't belong up there until the security heavies show up.

Spain, 2010 - Algo Pequinito:

Editor's Note: Spain likes a little avant-garde quirkiness.
Here's their 2008 offering, Bala el Chiki Chiki:

Monday, May 9, 2011

Eurovision Song Contest: England - the One with the Crash Carts

Oh, honey, NO.

England's little Eurovision problem is that it takes the competition seriously. While the countries of eastern and southern Europe toss back their hair and strut forth in sparkly tutus and merrily let the pyrotechnics blow where they may, England really really really wants to win.
            Two years ago the English rolled out the big guns and commissioned Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber (he of Power Chords on Pipe Organs fame) to compose a power ballad called My Turn. The production featured a passionate soprano singing clever subliminal lyrics like "It's MY TURN/ It's MY TURN/ It's MY TURN to SHINE!" in a voice that started tearful and wound up full-on frantic - like the drunken upper class hysteric who wonders why he still won't sleep with her, even after she bought him the watch and the cufflinks and the Rolls.
            The poor darlings. They even rolled out Sir Andrew himself to play the piano.
            Most years England offers up overly-cute pop tunes, performed with frantic desperation oozing from every pore - eyes too wide, smile too sharp, teeth too big- and that's just the commentator on the British telecast. 
            This little number was broadcast live from Helsinki in 2007.
            The Poor Darlings.

England, 2007 - Flying the Flag:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Eurovision Song Contest: the Power Ballad.

With all the over-deep and over-powerful emoting, Eurovision ballads often come across as rather thinly stretched, but for Eurovision watchers, that's generally a feature, not a bug. What with the music being so pedestrian, the singers have to add a little something SPECIAL to get their act across:

The Lady in the Shadows:

By most objective standards, this first offering isn't quite a power-ballad. Don't let the amateur ballerinas or kettle-drums fool you; the cheese, the toneless lyrics, the directorial restraint (yes, I said restraint) and above all, the shenanigans happening not quite backstage all qualify this number for this post: it's a Power Ballad, Eurovision style.
            Count your blessings.  At least there weren't any Lisa Frank dolphins this year.
            To clarify: Eurovision rules require that if you're on stage, it had better be for real. If there's a violin or a kettle drum or a musical chainsaw up there - that's where the sound of it must be coming from.  And all singing happens live, on stage. No exceptions.
            But it doesn't say that the lady up front in the short sparkly cleavage has to be the one doing the singing.
            Keep your eyes open for the woman in in the shadows at the back of the stage.

(The Balkan Girls have refused to comment.)

Romania, 2009 - The Balkan Girls:

For a change of pace, I offer you:

Sparkle Tutu Fairies:

Whatever you do, don't fall asleep. I won't say when the magic happens, because you'd simply skip to that moment in the song, and without living through everything that comes before it, the moment will mean nothing!
I will say only this: If you're watching this video alongside a female under the age of nine, there will be glitter paint in your future. Approximately six square meters of the stuff. In pink.

Belarus, 2010 - We Are Butterflies:

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Eurovision Song Contest: To Start us Off - The One with the fake Blood

Most years, the Balkan states tend to take the stage-effects very seriously.

Azerbaijan, 2008 - Day after Day:

But when they keep the lid on the karo syrup, they have more fun than anybody else up there.

Moldova, 2009 - Hora Din Moldova:

Bulgaria, 2007 - Water:

And when the Balkan states get it really right - what's not to love? This quietly JOYOUS:

Romania, 2007 - Liubi, Liubi I Love You:

Friday, May 6, 2011

It's almost time - for the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest!

In just over a week - on the 14th of May, the whole UNIVERSE will be torn open to receive the telecast of the planet's most Vivacious, most Bodastic, most NOISY and SPARKLY and LED-clogged Pop Music Contest!  Yes!!  It's the Eurovision 2011!!!!

And this is a good thing - a very good thing - if you like a) pink flamingos and b) really big frocks and c) aren't terribly picky about music as long as it's d) loud and e) overproduced and f) has fireworks going off during the noisy bits -
If you like all that, you'll LOVE Eurovision.

Here's how it works: 
Once a year almost every country in Europe (see boring fine print) abandons taste, sense and musicality and offers up a Eurovision entry - mostly by throwing glitter and a treble clef at a wall and seeing what sticks.

Occasionally this happens at a level of  national policy (in which case the classic trope 'designed by committee' generally comes out to play and live up to its dishonorable reputation.  See: Great Britain, almost every year.)
Other times bands stump up the money themselves and make up the difference with dogged determination and extra spangles and duke it out with each other for the dubious honor of the national title.  Occasionally there are a couple of musical instruments involved as well.  

These national winners are sent to the Europe-wide semifinals - and then, we have the (glitterbombed) FINALS.  Last year's winning country hosts this year's event and opens the show with last year's winning song (generally tarted up with bungee dancers and showers of ticker tape).
And it's BIG.
As a F'erinstance, here's 2008's Dimla Bilan, opening the 2009 Russian Eurovision tournament:

The Eurovision Finals last for HOURS.  The hosts are vapid and follow the teleprompter like they're mainlining novocaine.  The Mediterranean contestants run on treadmills and the eastern Europeans spill fake blood down their bare backs and the Finns dishonor rap music AND chainsaws (often simultaneously) and power ballads lean heavily on the over-use of epileptic LED backdrop animations and cleavage-  but the cleavage comes covered in sequins and you can always hope for a Balkan singer to do something wonderful with a tambourine or a kettle drum and shout "Oupa!" and seven billion people sit in front of their televisions drinking cocktails with little umbrellas on sticks (as a prelude to the heavy liquor - THAT comes out later, during the voting marathon).  And then, sometimes, once or twice in a show, something magic happens - and in between the teleprompters and the big billowing frocks, there's actual music going on.

In honor of the 2011 Eurovision Song contest, I have exhaustively trolled the past 4 years (I had to establish a cutoff SOMEWHERE or we'd be here all month) for the trashiest, tartiest, splendid-est, rip-roar-rousing-est, most generally-FANTASTIC-est Eurovision numbers of all time!*

*What?  Empty hyperbole is de-rigueur!  It's not ABOUT the music, people!!  It's one vast delirious explosion of pink plastic flamingos!!!

Ukraine, 2007, Dancing Lasha Tumbai:

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A plug: The Biggest Morning Tea

Jenny, a friend of mine who runs the quilting store Rose Hall Quilts, is hosting a Biggest Morning Tea this Saturday - May 11 - to benefit the Australian Cancer Council.
Jenny has spent a whole year planning this event, and it is going to be one heck of a shindig. Originally it was intended simply as a get-together-with-a-cause for the quilters of the gulf region, with a silent auction of pretty cups and saucers and old fashioned silverware (culled from estate sales and thrift stores by her quilting minions over the past months) to raise money for the council.

And then, eight weeks ago, the morning tea exploded.

Arriving at her house for a sewing meet-up one Wednesday morning, I found her feverishly labeling books of raffle tickets, and looking seriously harassed.
            "Tabubilgirl!" She bellowed. "It's mastatized! It's gone CRITICAL! The Biggest Morning Tea is now frigging ENORMOUS!"
I took the flyer that she thrust at me.
            "It started when Lucy told me I had to have a plant stall. 'A PLANT stall?' I said. 'This is a morning TEA!' Then she told me how much money you can make from a plant stall in this town, and then she told me she'd run it, so all right, we have a plant stall. With pink ribbons on the pots. Then Chrissy asked if she could be in charge of the catering. I said 'Great!' and asked her if I could still contribute my boxes of Pink Ribbon Tim Tams - I LOVE Tim Tams dunked in coffee - and she got really SHIRTY and said 'NO. I'm talking about the baked goods stall!'
'The Baked GOODS stall?' I said. And she said 'YES!' And she told me how much money you make from a baked good stall in Australia, so fine, we have a aked goods stall.  She can collect people to bake for her - so no worries. I said I'd do the coffee.
I asked her how much coffee and biscuits I should provide - I was thinking enough for 50 people - and she told me to cater for TWO HUNDRED!!  Or THREE HUNDRED even!!!
 And now we've got trading tables, with ladies sewing purses and knitting baby clothes like they're on fire, and we've got a quilt exhibition, which means I now have a pile of quilts insured for ten thousand dollars EACH sitting in my spare room, which makes me uncomfortable, I can tell you, and there's a raffle for a quilt and travel vouchers on the bus to Adelaide and, Oh, My God, I don't even know what else, with an ARMY of ticket sellers fanning out across the peninsula and my wholesale suppliers have been sending me the most amazing and expensive quilting supplies as donations to the cause and the whole thing is getting out of hand and I'm starting to panic.
I mean, it's only being held in my back yard!! Do you reckon we can get the pool hall and the BBQ shed and the shop shed and the granny flat cleared out in time? (editors note: in the Gulf region, people LOVE their sheds. You need at least three in your backyard to be taken seriously by anyone.) I've got 150 folding chairs and six portable gazebos on order, but maybe we need more space?
D'you think we can move the quilting exhibition out of the house and onto the verandah?! What if it rains?!?! Where will we plug in the pie-warmer?!?!?!?"

In summation, I will be baking. Lots of 'American style, please" cookies for the baked goods stall.

Cancer is the one really democratic charity. There's nothing political or geopolitical or squeam-inducing about it. It's as inoffensive and feel-good as the Make a Wish Foundation, without the faint overlay of 'this is not exactly a life-or-death donation' that keeps the Make a Wish Foundation out of the Really Serious leagues. (Although it does just fine financially - those same qualifications are what make it the PERFECT charity for university rush activism. There's not one prickly 18 year old activist who's going to make a fuss about raising money for dying kids.)
Everyone can get behind cancer, and my god, they certainly have. Jenny's suppliers are sending her hundreds of dollars worth of fabrics and threads and quilting templates as raffle prizes and local retailers and travel agencies have been getting into the act -

Saturday, May 7, 11 am, at 5 Woods Terrace, Whyalla, South Australia.
It's going to be quite the shindig.
If you're in town, please do drop by.